Chesapeake is mobilizing for a massive drilling and development campaign in the state. The company has spent $2.2 billion and amassed about 800,000 acres of leases in the rich Utica shale that runs underneath eastern Ohio. It has eight rigs running and will have 20 poking holes in the ground around Election Day. It plans to install 200 miles of pipeline this year to bring its bounty to market.
“We are very excited about the Utica,” Chesapeake’s chief executive, Aubrey McClendon, said in a Feb. 22 conference call.
That’s welcome news in Canton, where the unemployment rate peaked at 12.3 percent in January 2010 and where it was still running at 8.7 percent at the end of last year.
But shale drilling has also presented Ohioans with a dilemma. Chesapeake Energy is using the controversial combination of hydraulic fracturing and improved horizontal drilling methods to unlock vast quantities of natural gas, gas liquids and crude oil, driving down gas prices to 10-year lows. That has raised hopes for a revival of industrial and power plant uses of the gas.
In some cases, however, companies that haven’t drilled properly have contaminated water aquifers. And “fracking,” which uses about 4.5 million gallons of water — about 1,300 tank trucks full — to initially stimulate a well and get it flowing, has raised concerns about the disposal of toxic drilling waste; a Youngstown, Ohio, disposal well for fracking waste has been linked by seismologists to earthquakes. In December, the governor ordered the closure of several disposal wells in the area.
A Quinnipiac University opinion poll in January showed that 85 percent of Ohio voters believed that natural gas drilling would create jobs, and that by a 64-to-29 percent margin they believed that the economic benefits of drilling for natural gas outweigh the environmental concerns.
At the same time, voters said by a 72-to-23 percent margin that hydraulic fracturing should be suspended until there are further studies about its impact. They said by a 43-to-16 percent margin that fracking would damage the environment.
Support for a moratorium was strong among all groups, Quinnipiac said.
“Ohio can’t have it both ways,” Thomas E. Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement after the poll was released. “A ban on hydraulic fracturing would result in increased energy costs and bring oil-and-gas-related capital investment and job growth in Ohio to a grinding halt, just as the positive effects of both are currently reviving once-struggling communities throughout the state.”
“They want the jobs, but they’re very risk-averse,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.